Background - Our family of five (me, DH, and three kids ages 10, 12, 16) were on this wonderful ship the week of Aug 19 (aka the 9-day cruise). Our previous cruises were on Royal Caribbean (Oasis, Freedom, and Voyager class), Princess, Celebrity, Carnival, and Disney. In 18 cruises, this is the first time we've ever been on the same ship twice (which tells you how much we like this class of ship). Since this was our first time repeating a cruise ship, we tried to make this cruise unique by doing something new and different every day. Little did we know how memorable and unusual this cruise would turn out to be.
This was supposed to be a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise, but due to Tropical Storm Isaac, it was changed to a Western Caribbean itinerary on day 3 (Tuesday). We swapped St. Thomas and St. Maarten for Jamaica and Cozumel. Between Jamaica and Cozumel, we rescued a boatload of 58 Haitians. The Captain reported that they had been at sea for 22 days and had run out of food and water. Then, as we were heading back to port on day 7 (Saturday), the Captain informed us that Port Everglades was going to close that night due to the Tropical Storm, so we would be extending the cruise for two days while we waited for the storm to pass. We returned to Port safely on day 10 (Tuesday).
Pre-cruise hotel - We flew down to FLL the night before and stayed at Holiday Inn Express Ft. Lauderdale Airport/Cruise Port. They used to offer a free shuttle to the port, but now they charge $8 per person. (We paid it, but realized later a taxi probably would have cost half as much.) The room was nice and accommodated five using two beds and a sofa bed. The complimentary breakfast was ok - not the best we've ever seen, but not the worst, either.
Embarkation -- Quick and painless.
Cabins -- We normally get ocean balcony cabins, but in the spirit of "doing something new" we booked Boardwalk Balcony cabins. We were in adjoining cabins 9723 and 9725. These rooms were waaaay at the back of the ship, third and fourth from the end of the hall. I picked them because of their proximity to the Aquatheater. The rooms seemed smaller than balcony rooms on Freedom and Voyager class ships. They had fewer drawers, but made up for it with more closet space and shelves in the closets (similar to "cubbys" in elementary school). We did have a pretty good view of the activities in the Aquatheater, and enjoyed several shows of OceanAria from the balcony. As far as noise from the boardwalk, Rita's tended to be pretty noisy until about 11:00 at night, but when the balcony door was locked, the seal kept the noise to a minimum. The beds were so comfortable, I slept like a rock. I didn't hear much after my eyes closed.
Probably the most disappointing feature of the staterooms was the bathroom. On just about every other ship we've been on (RCI and others) the showerhead was mounted on a bar so you could adjust the height, which made it easier for kids to shower. The showerheads on Allure (and Oasis) are mounted to the wall, about seven feet off the ground. The little wire shelf (that everything falls through) is mounted about five feet off the floor. It is definitely not kid friendly. The good news is that the shape of the shower makes it a little roomier than the average ship shower, and there was always plenty of scalding hot water. (A pessimist might comment that the showers were too hot and some cooler water would have been appreciated.) There was not a lot of storage space in the bathroom, but it was adequate for us.
Windjammer -- Typical buffet food for breakfasts and lunches, with a good selection, although not as good as I remember on previous cruises. It was always very crowded; some days we couldn't find a table for five so we went back to the cabin and ate on the balcony. My advice -- remember that Allure has many places to eat at no extra charge, so don't be afraid to try something besides the Windjammer.
Solarium Bistro -- This was one of our favorite places to eat breakfast. They offered pancakes, waffles, turkey bacon, and a good selection of fruits. The atmosphere was very quiet and there were always tables available.
Central Park Cafe -- For breakfast they offer bagels with flavored cream cheeses and breakfast sandwiches. For lunch they offer salads and sandwiches. This was one of our favorite places to eat lunch, although it was sometimes hard to find a table. We often grabbed roast beef sandwiches and took them back to our balcony.
Sorrentos/Boardwalk Dog House/Cafe Promenade -- Great places to grab a quick bite to eat. No lines, no charge, open whenever we needed it, and great food.
Main Dining Room -- Ate dinner here every night except one. Appetizers and Entrees were good, desserts were sometimes mediocre (usually looked a lot better than they tasted). We had My Time Dining and sat at the same table most nights. There were two nights we showed up a few minutes late and ended up at a different table, but our serving team (Sandra and Bin) stayed with us.
Samba Grill -- We have never eaten at a pay restaurant on a ship before this, but keeping with the theme of "doing something new", DH and I ate here one night for dinner. For $25 each, we enjoyed the appetizer/salad bar, side dishes, 7 courses of meats, and dessert. The meats included chicken, several cuts of beef, lamb, and sausage. It was very good and we were stuffed by the end of the meal. The desserts were fabulous; I think it was the best dessert I had all week. There was also a young lady in a Brazilian Carnival-type outfit that danced at the top of the hour. After she did a little show, she went to each of the tables and asked if anyone wanted to dance with her. She was very nice and taught me a few Samba steps.
Entertainment - We saw all the shows except the Headliner show (we're not into the Beatles, and it conflicted with How to Train Your Dragon ice show). I won't go into details because many others have provided good reviews. Best advice for the shows is if you like a good seat, make your reservation ahead of time and show up a half hour early. If not, it looked like many shows still had seats available when they let everyone in, although they were in the back or on the far sides. The shows were enjoyable, impressive and worth seeing (although Ice Games was basically a one-hour commercial for Allure of the Seas).
Ship Activities -- If you're on a ship that has it all, you might as well do it all. We had a blast on the Zip line, FlowRiders, rock-climbing walls, basketball court, ice-skating rink, mini-golf course, pools, and the carousel.
The DreamWorks Experience -- Royal has many opportunities to get your pictures with characters from Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shrek. They also show 3D DreamWorks movies in the theater, and have a channel on TV that shows continuous DreamWorks movies. We managed to see all the characters and get pictures with them -- Po, Gloria, King Julian, Mort, Alec, the Madagascar Penguins, Shrek, Fiona, and Puss In Boots. You can use your camera to take pictures, or the ship's photographer was usually there to take pictures for purchase. One time the ship's photographer offered to take a picture of us with our camera. The only movie we saw in the theater was the 3D Madagascar 3 movie. The 3D was pretty neat, and "free" is a lot cheaper than it would have cost at the cinema back home.
The spa -- I hadn't planned to go to the spa this cruise, but they ran a special I couldn't pass up. For $109, I received an hour long treatment that included a back massage, foot massage, scalp massage, and a facial. Maribel was wonderful and truly talented. She spent a few minutes before starting to determine where she should focus the treatment (my back). Afterwards, there was no sales pitch (yes, you read that correctly). The whole thing was a heavenly experience.
Excursions - We only booked an excursion in the Bahamas, which was fortunate because that's the only port of the original itinerary that we made it to. For Jamaica and Cozumel, we got off the ship, got a few pictures and souvenirs, then got back on the ship and enjoyed the pool. As you would expect, the ship is much less crowded on port days.
Bahamas -- We did the Sea Lion Encounter at Blue Lagoon Island. The sea lion (P.J.) was very well trained and very gentle. We posed for several pictures, fed her, hugged her, kissed her, petted her and learned about Sea Lions. They are a lot furrier that I realized. Afterwards, we visited the Blue Lagoon beach while we waited for our pictures to be developed. On a previous cruise we did the dolphin swim, and both times we've been impressed with the animal programs and the trainers at this facility.
Royal Connect phones - we rented four of them at a cost of $30 each. They basically have four functions: calling rooms or other Royal Connect phones, texting other Royal Connect phones, locating other Royal Connect phones on your account (it actually shows a map with a dot), and showing the cruise compass for the day. They worked out very well for keeping tabs on everyone, although they weren't always accurate. It sometimes showed my DD playing ping pong on deck 16 when she was in our room on deck 9. Texts were sometimes delayed, and there was no time stamp to figure out when it was sent. They would randomly turn on, sometimes in the middle of the night. On the positive side, it was a great way to keep track of everyone, and the kids were only a phone call away. (Many of our phone calls had the theme "Come on down, we're getting a picture with a DreamWorks character") Overall, we were very happy with them and would definitely rent them again.
Captain Johnny -- absolutely fantastic, and my favorite captain ever. It was his first week back on rotation, and he had to deal with an itinerary shift from Eastern to Western, an at-sea rescue of the Haitians, and a two-day extension of the cruise. Throughout it all he was informative, professional, and personable. He came across as someone who genuinely cared about the welfare of the passengers and crew. He and Ken Rush (the cruise director) prepared a special show that aired on the Ken Rush TV channel to explain the itinerary changes, updates on the course of the storm, and provide more information on the Haitians. He also drove his motorcycle around the deck on one of the last sea days, and posed for pictures, which was very cool.
And for those who wonder what happens when your cruise gets a two day extension -- The MDR repeated the menus for the previous Sunday and Monday. The soda package was honored for the extra days, and we got to keep the royal connect phones for two extra days. The photographers continued to take pictures, and they were included in our photo package. When the cruise was extended, the internet and ship-to-shore calls were offered at no charge, but the network is not designed to handle a load of 6000 people all at once, so it went down immediately. We weren't charged extra cruise fare for the extra days, but we did voluntarily increase the tips to cover the extra days. Captain Johnny assured us that there was enough fuel and food for an extra week, if necessary. There were encore performances of the shows for the additional nights. And unfortunately, even with two extra days, it doesn't make leaving the ship any easier when you finally get back to port.